By Dennis Hetzel, Executive Director

Dennis Hetzel

Hetzel

During the 2012 election cycle, there was some confusion about media access to polling places.  Working with the office of Secretary of State Jon Husted, we were able to clarify that restrictions on loitering and entering polling locations did not undermine the media’s right to “reasonable access” to polling locations.

Husted’s office tells us that his 2012 directive on poll access remains active in 2014. The directive also describes how exit polling may be conducted.

The caveat in all cases is that a media member may not disrupt the voting process and should respect a voter’s right to privacy.

The 2012 problem resulted because of the directive’s assertion that respecting a voter’s privacy means that the media must request a voter’s permission before “recording the voter or the voter’s actions while in or about the polling place.”  While ONA is not aware of any dispute that occurred because of this directive in 2012, members should be alert to problems that could result.

If problems arise, you can refer to a clarifying statement issued by Elections Director Matthew Damschroder in 2012, which I repeat from my column at that time:

On August 2, 2012, Directive 2012-29 was issued to provide guidance on permissible conduct in and around a polling place, including the media’s permitted access.  As you know, the media is permitted “reasonable access *** for the purpose of news-gathering and reporting so long as [the members of the media] do not interfere with poll workers and voters as voters exercise their right to vote.”  Beacon Journal Publishing Co., Inc. v. Blackwell, 389 F.3d 683, 685 (6th Cir. 2004).

Directive 2012-29 states in part that “[t]he media must respect a voter’s privacy by requesting the voter’s permission prior to recording the voter or the voter’s actions while in or about the polling place.”

Please note that Directive 2012-29 should not be construed to require that members of the media obtain consent from voters who merely appear in the background or in wide-angle or “crowd shot” images of polling places.  Rather, members of the media are only required to obtain consent from an individual voter who will be the subject of an individual interview.

Obviously media members should treat voters with respect and get identification when possible. We also would contend that consent is implicit by the very fact that the individual agreed to the interview once he or she begins responding. We do recommend that media members have visible credentials at polling places to avoid confusion.

State law regarding polling places — Ohio Revised Code 3501.35(B)(2) – is helpful to journalists, as it explicitly states that the ban on loitering or congregating near polling places does not apply to journalists. The law says journalists must be granted reasonable access, although the term “reasonable access” obviously is subject to interpretation.

As always, let us know if you have questions or problems in this important area.

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